On the Conservative party conference fringe with Jacob Rees-Mogg
The FT's Whitehall correspondent Sebastian Payne gets behind the scenes at the Manchester conference to see if the party faithful will support a compromise to 'get Brexit done'
Filmed and edited by Joe Sinclair
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Here at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, the slogan is pretty obvious: Get Brexit Done. That's why all the Tories have gathered here to rally behind Boris Johnson and his plan to get the UK out of the EU by October 31. On the main stage at this year's party conference, the message is fully behind Boris Johnson and his plan to try and get a new Brexit deal without that tricky Irish border backstop, or leave without a deal at the end of October.
Getting Brexit done
But what does the rest of the party think? Well, let's go behind the scenes to see what people are saying at the fringe events, where the real debates of party conference happen, and the hotel bars where the actual plotting takes place. This Brexit event is typical of the kind of things you see at Conservative party conference. This is the Stand Up for Brexit rally, featuring three of the party's most prominent Brexiteers, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Andrea Jenkyns, and Steve Baker. Punters have come here to listen to their views on Brexit - why we need a clean break with the bloc. It's the kind of place where emotions are whipped up, opinions are formed, and decisions are made that will affect the future by the party.
Against that pressure is the IMF, the OECD, and other sets of incomprehensible initials. We revolted. And we said we will not be told what to do by acronyms. We are not having it.
We're in a better place than we were a year ago because leading our great party we have someone with guts, or balls as we like to say up north.
What I will say to you is this. I have not come this far to vote for Brexit in name only, at any price. So if I look at this deal and it is not a Brexit worth having, I will vote against it. And if it costs me the Conservative whip, so be it.
It's pretty tub-thumping stuff. You know, it's trying to get everyone's opinions going on Brexit in a way.
We cannot have this continuation of uncertainty in the country.
It's a fantastic event. Let's hope we don't have to have another one next year. We need to deliver Brexit by October 31 and sort out everything else.
Just wanted to say good to see you on the front porches.
Oh, you are kind. Thank you so much.
Those people, that they might be quite disappointed if Mr Johnson comes back with a deal that looks suspiciously like Theresa May's Brexit deal.
Well, that's not going to happen. It's going to be a different deal, as we all know. And what is very interesting is that when the question was raised did they want this all to be ended by the 31st of October, they all said yes. They just want Brexit to happen, deal or no-deal. So I think they are very much with the prime minister.
But it's not just at fringe events the real action happens at party conferences. In the main hotel, party activists, MPs, and even ministers gather to plot over drinks. We're off to go and try and catch a cabinet minister who's been doing just that. Liz Truss, the message of this is Tory party conference is Get Brexit Done. And when you go around the fringe events, as many of them you've been speaking at, people want to get Brexit done, but often not with a deal in a much tougher line. How do you reconcile those two things?
Well, of course, we want to get a deal. And I think there's a very good prospect we'll get a deal. The EU is clearly moving. But we're prepared to leave without a deal. And the key thing is that we move on. I think everybody in the country is fed up of hearing about the Brexit negotiations. What they want to see is us move forward. And of course my role as trade secretary is on the next phase getting the fantastic new deals with countries like the US, Japan, Australia, New Zealand.
But do you think there's any kind of danger this language we've been hearing, the surrender act, invoking all these warlike metaphors, that you're creating a bit of a mob mentality here?
This is just colourful political language. And I think that's exactly what politics should be about. The reality is people have become bored with too much technocracy, too much managerial speak. And we want to say it like it is. Because the fact is that the surrender act that's been put forward by the Labour party is essentially saying, that rather than us making decisions here in Britain, those decisions should be made by the EU, so it would be surrendering control to the EU.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. You're all very welcome.
Now, I'm going to disappoint all the journalists here. I want to make the case for moderation.
Oh, you disappoint your audience.
But is the Conservative party in a mood for compromise? If Boris Johnson does strike that new Brexit deal, it's going to require some tough trade-off. And normally at fringe events these activists love tub-thumping speeches, but this year the mood is ever-so-slightly different, with their man, a Brexiter, in Number 10, are these activists an MPs willing to accept some trade-offs to get Brexit by the end of October?
As long as we have control of our own borders and as long as we're not paying in massive amounts of money and not paying in for things that we're not using anymore, then it will be fine. The problem is obvious when you add the backstop, which fundamentally says it will continue as much as needed. So that's where your issues are. If the nips and tucks, as you describe, actually followed that, then there will be no problems. It just depends what they are.
Steve Baker is it true Brexit believer, and even he was saying, in fact, you know we have to be maybe moderate a bit to get a deal over the line.
Exactly, and that's the worry. That's the worry. If Boris brings back a withdrawal agreement that's been a little sort of tweaked around waiting around the edges, I'm going to be very disappointed, and I will be unable to support him.
Of course this conference is about more than just Brexit. The Tories are keen to try and put forward their messages on the NHS, education, and policing. And when you hit the fringes, there are lots of other different events too. Be it on foreign policy or how to empower local communities who feel left behind. But the fact is, Brexit is the matter that defines everything. If Boris Johnson doesn't deliver on that pledge to leave the EU by October 31, he's going to be in trouble. All of the activists here are betting on him to do what he said and get the UK out of the bloc. And if he doesn't, both his premiership and the future of the party will be in serious peril.